Telecomix take on Syrian surveillance

A Syrian man smokes a waterpipe as he works on his laptop with a friend at al-Rawda Cafe in Damascus on April 28, 2009.

Telecomix is a group kind of like the hacker collective Anonymous, but its members don't crash or deface websites -- they use their tech savvy to help others.

"We worked with an individual Syrian to help him publish and distribute video of an assault by police officers on a peaceful demonstration, including video of someone shot and killed. That was information we helped him get out and publish safely," says Peter Fein, who is affiliated with the group.

But it's getting more and more difficult to get this kind of information out of Syria. Fein says Telecomix is about to release a report detailing a major upgrade in Syria's online censorship efforts and that despite the current trade embargo, there is a flourishing black market in surveillance technology. Lots of it is flowing into Syria.

Jerry Lucas is president of TeleStrategies and knows this industry well. I asked him if shutting down this black market for surveillance technology would be virtually impossible.

"The answer to your question is yes," Lucas said. "You can sell through a third party."

Every year, Lucas organizes a conference in Dubai called ISS World. It brings together Middle Eastern intelligence officers with companies that market surveillance equipment. Despite the recent upheaval in the region, Lucas defends his role in the industry.

"We don't sell equipment to any country," he said. "We provide a venue for vendors to present their products, do training, and the vendors make that decision who they want to sell to."

"So it's like somebody teaching nuclear physics at a university," Lucas added. "And somebody's learning nuclear physics and they decide to go out and start working on nuclear weapons. Do you feel guilty that you taught that person physics so they can go out and build bombs?"

Also on the program, Ben Kuchera, gaming editor at ArsTechnica, has been playing the game of love -- actually it's a new video game called Catherine.

About the author

Steve Henn was Marketplace’s technology and innovation reporter for the entire portfolio of Marketplace programs until December 2011.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...